The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Professor discusses Dutch mystic

Kaitlyn Rabach | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The works of the Dutch poet and mystic Hadewijch inspired Saint Mary’s women to deeply analyze thirteenth century spiritual life Tuesday night.

Professor Amy Hollywood of the Harvard Divinity School explored the work of Hadewijch in the lecture “Love Abyss: Hadewijch’s Infinite Desire” in the Stapleton Lounge. She said it is crucial to understand the time period the mystic lived in to understand the poet’s work.

“To understand Hadewijch, one must understand the context in which her work was created,” Hollywood said.

Hadewijch’s work was sparked by the practices of the beguines in the thirteenth century, groups of women that were semi-religious, but not bound by taking formal vows, Hollywood said.

“These women often worked in the cloth industry, took care of the sick or were school teachers,” she said. “They were spiritual women, but since they were not bound by vows there was more permeability between the beguines and the outside world. This is what sparked a movement.”

Hollywood said this progress includes the many letters, poems and the manuscript of Hadewijch. Today, the work of Hadewijch is studied and translated into many languages, but Hollywood said experts are still trying to fully understand the poet.

“We really do not truly know anything,” Hollywood said. “All we have are these texts and poems. We do not even know if there is a Hadewijch, but we assume there was based on bodies of text with her name.”

Hollywood said communal prayer, manual labor and private reading and devotion were the main components in Hadewijch’s texts where she described her divine episodes.

“For Hadewijch, communal prayer is a necessary pre-condition for anything to do with the divine,” Hollywood said. “This especially includes psalms.”

Hollywood said Hadewijch often referred to the word love as meaning God, and believed love was God’s act.

Hollywood said it is through this understanding of love that Hadewijch described her divine mystical experiences.

“Hadewijch had intense personal devotion and this allowed for spontaneous mystical ways in which the divine can be encountered,” she said.

Hollywood said it is important to study the intense practices of spirituality of the past in order to bring the same passion intomodern times.

“For Hadewijch and other women in the thirteenth century, there was an understanding of their own intense amount of labor for being a Christian,” Hollywood said. “By reading material from the past we see this intensity and the vitality it had within Christianity at the time. When we see this intensity we must recognize it and think about it.”